In Luke 19.11-27, we come to one of the hinges in Luke’s gospel. We arrive at the end of that great, long section some Bible teachers call “Luke’s Travelogue” (chapters 9-19).
Jesus will next enter Jerusalem, but His disciples don’t yet know what to expect. And, it turns out, we struggle with some of the same false expectations they do.
Faithfulness required, in light of kingdom delay (:11). Verse 11 provides both the setting and purpose of the passage. Jesus’ disciples think that at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (perhaps only days away) God’s kingdom will appear in fulness, and right away. Unheeded and misunderstood have been Jesus’ many warnings to the contrary. (See 9.44-45 and 18.31-34). Little do they understand that Jesus would die first—to finish the work of redemption, to be raised, to receive the Father’s kingdom, to reign at the Father’s side, and to send the Spirit. Eventually, they’ll get it. (See Acts 3.20-21). But, until the coming of the Spirit, they’ll need to exercise faithfulness. How does Jesus respond? Well, He tells a story, a parable …
Faithfulness and Reward: The Parable of the Ten Minas (:12-27). In this parable a nobleman goes to a far country to receive a kingdom (:12). This strikes us as odd, but Herod the Great had gone to Rome in 40 B.C. to receive Palestine from Mark Antony, and Herod Archelaus received the same kingdom from Augustus in 4 B.C. Did these vassal-kings reign while yet in Rome? Yes, they did. Did they begin to rule until they got back? No, they didn’t. That’s just how they did things, in those days. But even more importantly, Ephesians 1.19-23 tells us that Jesus received His kingship at His resurrection, but would await His rule, until His return. That’s the part of God’s plan Jesus’ disciples were missing at Jesus’ entry into the city at the telling of this parable.
Against all this cultural and theological background, Jesus continues with the parable. Preparing for his departure, the nobleman gives his subjects responsibility: ten servants receive one mina (the equivalent to four months work for a day-laborer) and tells them to “engage in business until I come”. In other words, make a profit, work, grow, increase, expand.
Meanwhile, some subjects of the new nobleman-king reject him in his absence (:14). Sound familiar? The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Ps 118.22).
The new king returns, and the servants line up for a time of evaluation and reward. Servant #1 has multiplied his mina times 10! Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities. Notice how responsibility becomes cities, and increased responsibility in the kingdom (See 1 Cor 6.2-3a). Servant #2 has multiplied his mina times 5. Nothing wrong with that.
Then comes Servant #3 … Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow (:21).
Now, is this an accurate estimation of the king? Or has Servant #3 completely disregarded the king during his absence? The king plays along with the ruse: I will condemn you with your own words (:22b). The king points out that if this unfaithful servant had truly believed what he said, he’d have worked harder. It’s apparent that Servant #3 doesn’t really know the king, and has thought little of him during his absence. Probably, he didn’t even expect him to come back. He’s UNFAITHFUL, and told to surrender his mina and give it to the servant who has multiplied his responsibility most faithfully.
At this juncture, the crowd standing in the wings calls foul. Doesn’t Servant #1 already have 10 cities?! This prompts the king, speaking for Jesus in the imaginative landscape of the parable, to give the master principle of the teaching: I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away (:26).
This is not an economic calculation. This is relational calculation. Those who want more of Jesus will always get more of Jesus! (With more responsibility in the kingdom). Those who don’t want Jesus won’t get Jesus. And, because Jesus plus nothing equals everything, they won’t even get to keep what they thought they had.
In the final scene of the parable, the reigning (now ruling) king executes justice on those who opposed him. And, my reading of the parable sees the unfaithful Servant #3 included in those cast out. (See also 12.46).
Even if the disciples missed it, we (from our vantage point after the cross) can see through the thin veneer of the parable what we’re being taught about Jesus: He reigns now, will rule soon, and requires faithfulness from us, His servants.
JESUS reigns and will reward faithfulness at His return.
Important for us to note is that Jesus values faithfulness because He is faithfulness. Faithful to go to the cross. Faithful to return in His time. Faithful to judge the unrighteous as He has said He would, even.
As Jen Wilken has written, God is faithful to do what he says he will do. As far as it is possible with us, we should be the same. We should reciprocate his faithfulness to us with faithfulness toward him. We should reflect his faithfulness to us with faithfulness toward others. Jesus Christ is the perfect expression of God’s faithfulness toward humankind, as well as the perfect expression of human faithfulness toward God and others. His example shows us the way of faithfulness (In His Image, 106).
Here’s a few questions to guide our thinking and discussion of The Parable of the Ten Minas:
- What important lessons do we learn from each of the three major figures in the parable—the nobleman king, the faithful servants, and the unfaithful servant (and the rebellious subjects)?
- What do you find sobering about this parable?
- And, what do you find encouraging about Luke 19.11-27?
- How does this passage change your understanding of what you’ll be doing in the kingdom, provided that you know Jesus and are looking forward to His return?